Friday, November 04, 2005

Was signing Rusch a good thing?

Bill asked this very question a few days ago on this blog. Here’s my answer:

It is a good thing in so far as it will contribute toward keeping the Cubs from slipping even further down the divisional rankings next season. This is a move that goes a long way toward preserving the status quo.

And we all know what fun and giggles last season was. Wouldn't a reprise be even better?

However, this is not a move that will progress them forward and out of the [deservedly] current 4th place standing where they currently reside.

To do that, they need (in order of importance):

(1) Another quality starter (Millwood preferably; and Burnett if not Millwood). I wrestled with the decision of whether the team’s most pressing concern was offense or starting pitching. In the end, I went with starting pitching since I believe that the difference between the 2004 season (in which they were still in it until the last 2 weeks of September) and the 2005 season (in which they were out of it by July) was the loss of Matt Clement (who, along with Rusch, was the chief factor keeping the leaky Cubs boat afloat during the first half of the 2004 season with the early losses of Wood and Prior).

Think folks, injuries to the allegedly stellar starting rotation have plagued this team 2 years in a row now. Remember, in 2004 the finger was squarely pointed at the injury bug (especially to starters) to explain the Cubs failure to repeat the previous years success. In 2005, injuries to key starters once again seriously undermined the team’s ability to consistently compete (Jerome Williams and Rich Hill aren’t taking this team anywhere in case you were wondering).

Therefore, to not plan for this contingency next season in light of the history of the previous 2 seasons would be just plain stupid. Further, an aging Greg Maddux is now nothing more than a serviceable 5th starter. This team needs a reliable number 3 behind Zambrano and whoever’s arm doesn’t fall off first between Wood and Prior. A rotation of Zambrano, Prior/Wood, Millwood, Maddux, & Rusch will go a long way toward making the Cubs at least competitive next year.

(2) Offense (preferably the speedy Furcal, Giles, Lofton, & yes, bring Nomar back too). Offense (or lack thereof) has been my own personal chief complaint with this team the past 2 seasons (even more so than a terrible bullpen if you can believe that). It’s been either all or nothing with this team. They either explode for 10+ runs or they struggle to cobble together 2 (and it was more often the latter than the former). I am convinced that it has been the team’s lack of offense the last 2 seasons that has highlighted the pitiful state of the bullpen since the bullpen was expected (unreasonably) to be perfect! When they inevitably did fritter away a 1 or 2 run lead, the chorus of complaints focused attention on the bullpen instead of the miserly offense (which in my opinion deserved the lion’s share of the blame).

This is a team that sorely needs people who can put wood on the ball and get on base.

The offensive production from the outfield last year was disgraceful – among the worst in the majors in fact. Although it seems farfetched (b/c I don’t think Nomar will go for it), I like the idea discussed in the fantasy land of the blogosphere with regard to flipping Nomar to the left field spot. A hopefully sober Furcal then fills out SS, stick Giles in RF, and bring back Kenny Lofton in CF (or trade for Pierre). This is what you’ve got in terms of a lineup come opening day then:

(1) Furcal – switch hitter (ss)
(2) Lofton – left handed hitter (cf)
(3) Lee – right handed hitter (1b)
(4) Giles – left handed hitter (rf)
(5) Ramirez – right handed hitter (3b)
(6) Garciaparra – right handed hitter (lf)
(7) Walker – left handed batter (2b)
(8) Barrett – right handed hitter (c)

You might be able to argue Lofton’s place (possibly switch him and Walker), but that balanced lineup at least gives you quite a few possibilities from top to bottom. In fact, that’s a lineup that brings back the glorious days of 2003 when the Cubs played entertaining baseball.

However, if the Cubs do what I think they are going to do (which is let Nomar go, leave Patterson in center, continue to give Neifi and Macias serious playing time, and leave the corner outfield situations unaddressed) – they will once again compete for 4th place in the division. Of course, you’ll still have the typical fantasy land bloggers telling you how peachy things are and then you’ll once again be saying (when the final out of 2006 is registered) – “hopefully next year.”

(3) bullpen (?????). I really have no idea where to begin with the bullpen since the task of constructing a competent bullpen is an utterly mysterious endeavor. You have as much chance of divining tea leaves or discerning the mating habits of the beast from loch ness as you have of predicting bullpen success these days.

The sole piece of advice I have is to avoid resigning the 6 fingered wonder who is a free agent for what must be the 5th consecutive year. That and these words of wisdom:

Just do something because the bullpen is atrocious!

Jim, whatever you do, if it works, we will sing your praises. We will toast you in the corridors of Wrigleyville as we try to forget the nightmare that has been this years WS (I still feel like I haven’t quite recovered from a bad hangover).

On the other hand, if it doesn’t work we will call for your head.

It’s tough, I know, but that’s what 98+ years of futility has reduced us to.

Now go out and get the job done. If those losers from the South Side can win, then I really don’t understand what the problem is.

We’re tired of excuses to be quite honest.

Don’t let us down, don’t think that the prominent voice of delusional fans means the rest of us are dupes, and most of all, Jim, keep a tight reign on the Dustbag this year.

Just keep in mind that Theo Epstein is waiting in the wings.